The strangest thing is, the only thing I remember the most is the shock. It felt like everything I knew about the world around me didn’t fit. When a week had passed and we were driving around, looking for groceries and water, I saw bits and pieces of Bayamón I recognized. The Walgreens, the Sams in front of it, the barbecue place nearby. But it was all obscured by fallen debris, dead trees and cables draped all over the roads and sidewalks. The island’s usual lush green vegetation usually stands out, even in cramped cities like Bayamón. But for a while, everything I saw looked as if it came straight from the set piece of a post-apocalyptic wasteland ripped straight from a Hollywood movie. I rode in the passenger seat while my mother drove, teeth grit as she dealt with drivers that seemed as eager to drive into another car as we were to eat breakfast.
Don’t misunderstand—we were fortunate enough to have a gas stove to cook with. Our neighborhood is composed of relatives on my mother’s side. I never went a day without food or water—something many other Puerto Rican’s cannot say, even now when things are “returning to normal”. Even though the power comes back on and leaves, as does our water, we still have those services available. We got electricity about two weeks ago. We still have water, but sometimes it threatens to leave as quickly as it comes back on. Others haven’t had electricity or water since hurricane Irma, more than 50 days ago.
The fact that my case is one of the best says a lot about our current situation. My sister and I take two buses from Bayamón for about two hours in the morning just to get to college. All the buses are jammed with people because the train isn’t working. How can it with no power? After class, we catch the first bus around 4PM when traffic is almost as bad as it is in the morning, taking at least another two hours just to go back and wait for a ride home from a relative. Wake up at 5:30, get home at 8 PM every day. Later, if we need to eat out because the power comes and goes.
I’ve heard people act as if things are going back to normal, throwing around the newest slogan: Puerto Rico se levanta. It’s usually at the end of a commercial offering some kind of insurance or product or service. To be fair, I’ve also witnessed some charities and donating third parties use it to try to cheer us up. But I still get the sensation that there’s a sort of expectation on our part, as if rising to the challenge of living in such terrible conditions is an honor we get to prove as a Puerto Rican citizen. People have died because President Trump decided that a week later was a quick response to our island’s state of emergency a week too late, sending in help only to threaten to pull it out shortly afterwards. As if medical patients haven’t died because they didn’t have access to their prescriptions or electricity to power their life support machines, and because hospitals were only running on generators. It’s almost as if we are expected to shrug off their deaths, shrug off the suffering of others, like the people of Morovis who remain shut off from the rest of the world. We are asked to act as if our neighbors haven’t had to bury their dead when we were left without a means to get help. We are asked to continue to risk our health going to our jobs and schools, risk our safety in roads without traffic lights, with piling debris, sickness, and suicides, unemployment and criminal activity on the rise. We are asked to compare our tragedy to other places to minimize our own needs by shrugging and saying “it could be worse”. We are asked to help this island rise when those who need to be responsible shrug off their responsibilities and take advantage of our situation. And as usual, it’s the people that rise to the challenge and work for this island that suffer the most. Puerto Rico se levanta. But at the expense of the poor and the suffering of the lower class and local businesses, and the exodus of a large portion of the population.
I fully acknowledge that I have been very fortunate and privileged. I have family members who have helped me. I may even join the exodus. But the reality of what Maria brought to my already suffering island will stay with me. Trauma forces you to harbor it inside the nooks of your subconscious. It’s there in whispers, makes you flinch when people from the outside world comment on it as if it’s just another pice of news. I want to blame them, but I can’t really bring myself to. It’s not personal for them. It’s a cause to learn about in the newspapers and feed of their social media. I’m not saying that everyone who reacts to bad news on Facebook is an emotionless monster. If Post-Maria taught me anything, it’s that there are people who lend a hand, take action. Some of us get informed on the issue. Some of us donate. But the truth is, we’ll never understand their suffering, just as the people who talk about Puerto Rico and all the other islands affected by the hurricane, and will probably never live through something like that. One person’s cause is another person’s reality. But to me and thousands of others, it’s not last month’s news. It’s our home, teetering on the edge of instability while I watch, afraid. And just as I held my breath as the vicious winds of Maria threatened to destroy the glass surfaced door of my home, I keep the thought of my home in my heart, hoping Puerto Rico does get its chance to rise for the better.
By: Ángela Orozco